GENTRY After my father's death last April, I attempted to pay tribute to him in one of my columns. At that point, it was too soon to realize how life would change without him. Although I had no trouble listing several admirable qualities, I think I remember writing then that I would miss his humor the most. I have changed my mind. I can say now that what I miss most is not any particular characteristic, but Dad himself - the man, the friend, the father.
In spite of the loss, I feel so appreciative of all that having Dad gave me. Although he is gone, he left so much.
Even knowing his time was short, Dad chose to live in the moment and not fret about the inevitable. This made it possible for our family to savor his last months, which included many great conversations and good memories.
Dad's example of how to live life to the fullest continued through to the end. He said he thought a person shouldn't give up on living and wait to die. He held to that belief until his last day.
He did what he could for himself as long as possible, then graciously accepted help when needed. He would not agree to let us get him a hospital bed and chose instead to prop himself on his favorite couch where he could see outside.
That is where he took his last breath. Yes, I miss that man.
Nobody enjoyed visiting with others more that Dad. He had friends, young and old alike. He read books and the daily newspaper and was always ready to discuss anything from local events and ways of the past to national politics.
He instilled in his children and grandchildren that voting is a right which should be exercised.
I remember that he took me to register as soon as I turned 18. I have voted almost every possible time since then, in part, because I knew that Dad would likely ask me if I had been to the polls.
I enjoyed listening to his ideas on many topics, and the best part is that he didn't insist that we all agree.
"That's why there's both chocolate and vanilla ice cream," he'd say.
Several times lately, I have found myself wishing to ask him a question, to get his opinion, or to clarify details of one of his old stories. I miss the conversation and the friendship.
The reality is that there are precious few people on this earth that care about you like your parents. Of course I knew this in my head, but it has occurred to me over andover in my heart since losing Dad. Even though I'm still left with a wonderful mom, having now lost exactly half of my parental support system feels quite different.
My dad's daily agenda was never so rigid that he couldn't drop everything and help when called. That need seldom came up, but just knowing it was there provided immense security.
The man who early on impressed my little-girl heart by mashing wasps in the window with his bare thumb and by showing no fear during severe thunderstorms is gone.
There are moments when, even at my very grown-up age, I feel a bit orphaned. I miss not having a dad.
All my life, from my earliest memories until this year, Dad was always there. He wasn't perfect, of course, but he loved his family dearly and that sure minimized his imperfections to me.
No, the world did not stop spinning the day he left us, but it took on a different feel. Like a wheel out of balance, it seemed to turn out of sync. We are all adjusting, but things will never be the same without Dad. I imagine that the earth itself sensed the change as one of her biggest-hearted inhabitants was lifted away.
(The answer to last week's question: According to the park flyer, scenes from "Where the Red Fern Grows" were filmed at Natural Falls State Park.)
Opinion, Pages 5 on 09/09/2009